Liturgy and the Singing Shrimp

I'd like to comment on Father Michael J. Kavanaugh's letter in the June 10-16 issue (“Authentic Is Not a Synonym for ‘Literal’”). I think that Father Kavanaugh makes indisputably true points about translation. Certainly a literal translation might be unintelligible to someone from a background different from the one from which the text emerged. Nevertheless, reading the commentary on which Father Kavanaugh is commenting (“Authentic Liturgy … At Last,” May 27-June 2), I do not come away with the idea that the Congregation for Divine Worship is seeking literal translations, but rather faithful translations.

The writer adduces an example of translation that appears to be ineffective in making his point. He refers to a U.N. translator rendering the Russian hyperbole “… when a shrimp sings on a mountaintop” with the English “when pigs fly.” Frankly, although I'd never heard the words before, to me the Russian original is not only understandable, but is positively lyrical. The original simile has a basic beauty that is lacking in the English paraphrase, which feels pedestrian. Indeed, “when pigs fly” has to me a cynical connotation that does not come through in the Russian phrase, which contains a broad good humor. Perhaps an actual example, from the current liturgical translations, would have made the case better.

But I wonder. It is hard to avoid the impression that the laity are regarded as a target for experimenting. One criticism of the current English translations is that they are pedestrian. And when we hear liturgists tell us what is good and what is not, there is the tacit assumption that the laity is not up to understanding the meanings in the original text; that they cannot appreciate its richness. Now the laity is no longer inferior in education or sophistication to the experts, as was once the case. The local parish priest, for example, used to be the only educated person in town.

This has obviously changed. This is not to say that taste cannot be disputed, or that the laity should be choosing translations. But the laity's traditions, attitudes and reactions to what the specialists think ought not to be discounted.


Woodhaven, New York

Translation and Inculturation

Regarding Father Kavanaugh's June 10-16 letter in response to the May 27-June 2 commentary “Authentic Liturgy … At Last,” I think there is another factor to consider in translation and that is fidelity to the “culture of the Church.” I am not an advocate of a literal translation, and I appreciate Father Kavanaugh's remarks in this regard. However, authentic translation must above all be true to the Tradition of God's people, for translation is part of the process of handing on the faith from generation to generation.

Why has translation been a cause of tension in the Church in the period since the Second Vatican Council? I do not believe it arose from the technical aspect of translation but a wrong concept of inculturation. When, for example, translators took it upon themselves to downplay or eliminate words related to kingship and majesty, they were tampering with concepts that are part of divine Revelation. It was God's idea to make of King David a type of Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. Kings may not be part of modern democratic culture, but they are part of the Word of God in both the Old and New Testament; they have also been part of the Church's worship for two thousand years.

Such an approach to translation is, in fact, the worst kind of inculturation, a submitting of the Word of God, which shall not pass away, to the world that is passing away. And what are we to say of the attempt to co-opt the liturgy and the Scriptures by means of translation to the cause of radical feminism!

It is tragic that so many have lost faith in the transcultural reality of the Church, the Word of God and the liturgy. A Church adapted in a radical way to modern culture would no longer be a universal Church. Worst than that, it would not have a “saving Word” to say to modern man.

In summary, I believe the principle that Father Kavanaugh relies on should therefore be not “every act of translation is also an act of transculturation,” but rather “every act of translation is also an act of Tradition.”


Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Her Choice

Recently I read the Register's May 27- June 2 article on a crisis pregnancy center called Her Choice. They had started a hotline for women considering abortion. The hotline consisted of personal testimonies, among other things. I am very interested in starting a hotline like theirs in Kansas. Unfortunately, I misplaced the article. I would appreciate any assistance you could give me in locating this article and additional information.


Pierceville, Kansas

Editor's note: You can call Her Choice Atlanta at (678) 339-0018; Her Choice Minneapolis can be reached at (952) 461-4000. On the Internet, go to www.herchoice.org. For more information on starting a Her Choice system in your area, call Judy Kelly at Alpha Women's Center, (952) 447-5683. To send a brief, taped abortion testimony, mail to: Alpha Women's Center, 13848 Hwy. 13, Savage, MN 55378.

Expecting Too Much?

Poor President Bush (“Times that Call for Greatness,”

June 10-16). We expect a lot from him. We expect him to be even greater than Lincoln. Lincoln did have one pragmatic reason for the Emancipation Proclamation. It made it difficult for England and other European countries to continue to support the South when the war was to be fought to uphold slavery. I can't think of even one pragmatic reason to be outspokenly pro-life.

How many times in recent years have you heard your own pastor exercise the moral leadership urged on President Bush ? I haven't heard many homilies teaching even us Catholics, a supposedly friendly audience, how to think about the life issues. And how many times have you stepped out of the crowd and made yourself visible in defense of human life lately? Those times have been embarrassingly few for me.

So how will we Catholics support the courage we ask of President Bush after has stepped out in faith? Catholic Democrats (most of us, unfortunately) will say he's insincere and unconcerned about those already born, and that abortion isn't the only pro-life issue. Some prolifers will say he's still not pro-life enough.

I hope that President Bush will provide the moral leadership that offers us a vision of a country living up to its founding ideal—that we are endowed by our creator with an unalienable right to life. But I'm glad I'm not in President Bush's shoes.


Ashtabula, Ohio

School Can be Scary

I would like to comment on your response to a parent whose child is exhibiting school-aversion behavior (“School Phobia II,” Family Matters, May 13-19). When I was only five years old I developed agoraphobia (fear of losing control in public situations) over attendance at school, a condition which I have struggled with for 33 years.

When a child exhibits a fear of going to school, there should be matters looked into in addition to the ones you mentioned. For example, what type of teacher does the child have? Unfortunately, not every teacher is as stable and as trustworthy as we would like to believe. Teachers can have personalities and behavior which can instill unhealthy fears in a child. A parent should make every effort to get to know their child's teacher well to determine if this is part of the problem.

Also, a child may develop phobias involving enclosed spaces, public-speaking situations such as oral reports in front of other classmates and fear of failure. It is not enough just to force a child to go to school.

If serious examination of my own situation had taken place many years ago during my first time in school, it might have saved me a tremendous amount of suffering. I would like to think that passing this information on will enable a parent to do the same for their child.

Name Withheld

A Reader Turns 70

It had a been a wonderful 15th Annual Marian Congress, but now I was home and ready to relax with my favorite newspaper, the National Catholic Register. It was not to be: Right there on the front page were pictures of three young, female [sex symbols] chosen to repeat the words of John Paul II on a CD (“Selling the Pope: Critics Question New Pope Products,” June 10-16).

Surprisingly enough, the three men displayed are all recognized for talent; certainly not for “handsome good looks” or “great bods”!

There is more, the news blurb on page 3: “Poll: Most Americans Now Endorse Premarital Sex.” We know, unfortunately, that millions of Catholics are part of “most Americans.” But do not stop here, back up to page 2 and find that “Abortion Supporters Take Control of U.S. Senate.” This is devastating!

Not only devastating to the Senate—consider that Kennedy, Leahy, Biden, Durbin and Daschle all claim to be Catholic as they proudly display themselves to America and the world favoring abortion. They do not follow the 2,000-year teaching of Christ; they do not follow the Vicar of Christ of today—no, these fellows follow Frances Kissling, the lone live member of that very strange group Catholics for a Free Choice.

Catholics across America and the world still await truth from the bishops that these fellows … excommunicate themselves from the faith of Christ. They are liars. They lie to themselves and to the world as they claim Roman Catholicism. When will our bishops make the public announcements?

On June 10, 2001, I reached the big 7-0. Again, I learned that oft-taught lesson: Satan never sleeps! Thank you, National Catholic Register of June 10, 2001.


Wayne, Nebraska